Chinese online retail giant Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
Photograph by Jewel Samad — AFP/Getty Images
By Aaron Pressman
April 18, 2016

When Jack Ma wanted to take his Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group Holdings, public two years ago, Hong Kong regulators rejected the listing and the company ended up trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

But for his next megahit startup, Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group Co., Ma is looking at a local listing before the end of 2016, Bloomberg reported Monday. The company, which runs the popular Alipay digital payment service and operates China’s largest money market fund, meets the requirements for a listing, including being profitable for the past three years.

If Ant Financial can attain its most recent private valuation of $60 billion, it would be the biggest IPO in China since 2010, when Agricultural Bank of China listed. The bank hit a value of $128 billion on its first day of trading in Hong Kong.

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Alibaba (baba) once controlled Alipay, but spun off the ownership in 2011 to a separate entity controlled by Ma that evolved into Ant Financial. The website operator is entitled to 37.5% of the payments company’s pretax profits per year unless and until it exercises its right to buy about a one-third stake.

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Alipay, which competes with Tencent’s WeChat Payment, has 450 million active users and executives say they want to reach 2 billion within 10 years. The company owns a stake in Indian payments company Paytm and is looking for other investments in Asia.

The company’s strong market position would likely attract plenty of buying interest in China, despite the country’s rough-and-tumble stock market performance of late. The market spent the past two months notching modest gains after losing more than one-quarter of its value in a downturn that started almost a year ago. But companies have continued going public this year.

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